Max Pearson ’22
Concussions are one of the most contentious topics in sports today. The National Football League (NFL) owners introduced new helmet regulations last year in response to a league-high 291 diagnosed concussions in the 2017-2018 season. This figure may be as a result of better systems in place to detect concussions, but the fact still remains that it is a very high number. The new helmet rules prevent a player leading with their head when tackling an opponent. By preventing the helmet making first contact, it protects both the player tackling and the player being tackled.
Soccer players are also susceptible to head injuries and concussions. When competing to head the ball against opponents, players may make contact with the opponent’s head, putting themselves and the opponent at risk. In addition to head to head contact in soccer, repeatedly heading the ball over the course of a career can cause long-term damage, as well as damage in one off incidents. Davidson Soccer captain Louis Evans ‘21 has experience with the former; he sustained a serious concussion in a pre-season game in the 2018 campaign that caused him to miss all of the regular season and tournament. He sustained his injury when attacking a corner. He beat his opponent to the ball, but as a result his opponent made direct contact with his temple.
The nature of concussions prevents athletes from training in almost any capacity. For athletes in contact sports like soccer and football, the restrictions in recovery are massive. They may not be allowed to rejoin the team in full capacity for several months, and maintaining base fitness during this time can be very difficult. Even activities as trivial as running on hard surfaces like a road are prohibited in the early stages of rehabilitation. It is also a well-known fact that people suffering from concussions are not allowed to take finals or important exams. As a result the ramifications can be felt in day to day life as well in sport.
Evans says “Dealing with [a] concussion is very debilitating. I wasn’t able to distract myself with school work or other activities as most aspects of your normal life are put off-limits.” Evans even goes as far as to say, “It doesn’t surprise me that there have been cases from sports players who develop onsets of depression. It is up there with one of the toughest periods of my life emotionally.”
Evans also credits his supportive teammates: “I was fortunate enough to have a team around me doing successful things, and people who were sympathetic to my situation, so it could’ve been much worse.”
Concussions are increasingly an area of concern in all sports. While the NFL has been addressing player safety and head injuries for a long time now, soccer organizations are also starting research on how to prevent concussions. Headgear has been suggested as a method of reducing concussions, and reducing the long term effects of regularly heading a soccer ball.
In the early 1970s, new medical knowledge and the arthroscope allowed for Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) reconstruction. Before then, ACL tears were career ending injuries. Sports medicine was in the dark on how to handle the ACL. Similarly, concussions pose a new test in Sports medicine. Hopefully with increased research and awareness, concussions can become less prevalent and rehabilitation more effective.